What Happens When You Write a Letter to The Met?

July 20, 2016

Woman Writing a Letter
Kaigetsudō Doshin (Japanese, active 1711–1736). Woman Writing a Letter, ca. 1715. Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper; Image: 19 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (49.5 x 60 cm), Overall with mounting: 53 x 28 13/16 in. (134.6 x 73.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015 (2015.300.119)

«Hey, #MetKids! I'm Bianca. I am an 18-year-old high school intern at The Met who will be attending School of Visual Arts in the fall. An intern is a student or individual who works at an organization to gain work experience. Have you ever written a letter to The Met? During my internship here, I became very interested in the letters that are mailed to the Museum by kids of all different ages and what happens to them after they arrive.»

One day while leaving the office, I overheard two Met staff members reading a letter sent in by a curious kid. Instantly, I was interested! I wanted to know how many letters The Met gets daily, if the letters even get a response, and, if so, who responds to these letters? I wanted to know all I possibly could.

With the help of my mentor, Associate Educator David Bowles, I decided to get to the bottom of this mystery. I came up with a few questions and spoke to Joan Ehrlich, the volunteer who has been responding to letters from kids like you for almost 10 years! She was kind enough to share the details about the mail.

Letters to The Met

Stacks of letters addressed to The Met. Photo by Aliza Sena

Bianca: How and when did you start responding to kids' letters to The Met?

Joan Ehrlich: I have been working at The Met for almost 10 years. After five years of filling requests for school groups and trips, I eventually moved to responding to children's letters.

Bianca: How long does it take to respond to each letter?

Joan Ehrlich: It varies on what the individual child is asking, really. On average, it takes me 10 to 15 minutes to respond to a child's letter. Sometimes it takes even longer if the kids ask me to do their homework for them—which we don't recommend: your homework will be late!

Bianca: Do you respond to all of them?

Joan Ehrlich: Yes. Sometimes The Met has a lot of letters and other times, not as much. However, I make a point to respond to all the mail I receive.

Bianca: What is the average age and grade that the letters come from?

Joan Ehrlich: The average grade in which letters are received is 5th grade. Most of the letters that I receive are from elementary schoolers. These letters are a part of a letter writing project where they are learning to properly write and address a letter. While The Met doesn't get as many letters from middle schoolers and high schoolers, there certainly are some curious bigger kids who write in.

Bianca: What is your favorite thing about responding to children's letters?

Joan Ehrlich: The children who write in are all so interesting! Letters come from all over the country. I really do get a sense of their school life and what their culture is like, as well as understand what the kids are really about and what motivates, inspires, and captivates them. Some of the children are so interesting and wonderful I almost want to call them in 10 years and see what they're doing and how they've grown. I love to incorporate pictures in the letters to better explain something, and I often suggest they talk to their school librarian to learn more about the topic they wrote about. A letter back from The Met is truly an experience. Since everything is emailed now, it's not very common to get a formal written letter.

Bianca: What is the most unusual letter you can recall responding to?

Joan Ehrlich: Some kids ask how much I and other Met staff get paid. Others ask how good food at The Met is [pretty tasty!] and how good the staff food is. Once a kid asked "if there were a big fire, how would The Met would save all the pictures?" I replied, "There are enough staff at The Met so if everyone grabbed one painting, we'd save a lot!" Most of the letters aren't bizarre as a matter of fact, most of the letters are mellow and calm.

Bianca: Why do you continue to respond to these letters?

Joan Ehrlich: I adore doing it.

Andrew Bush, Untitled

Andrew Bush (American, born 1956). Untitled, 1993. Chromogenic prints; Dimensions vary from 8.4 x 7.5 cm (3 5/16 x 2 15/16 in.) to 45.7 x 55.9 cm (18 x 22 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 1993 (1993.195a–s) © Andrew Bush

The Met gives each writer a surprise gift along with their response letter. I found out what it is, and so can you! All you have to do is pick up a pencil and write. We'd love to hear from you! Send your letters in a self-addressed and stamped envelope to:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave
New York, NY 10028

Bianca undefined

Bianca is a high school intern with the Museum's High School Internship Program.